Friday, December 31, 2010

Guest Post: Writer, Interrupted

by Nichole Bernier

“How do people just write, then pause, make dinner and whatnot, and then go back to writing?”

I was sent this question as a guest columnist for an advice column for writers (Book Divas’ “Ask A New Author”), and it made me laugh. Maybe it was the whatnot. But mostly I loved the suggestion that writing is far too fragile a process to be interrupted for mundane tasks, a belief I’m hoping catches on widely.

I mean, would a surgeon pause mid-bypass to pick up drycleaning? Would the rescuers of the Chilean miners have brought their rock-burrowing shuttle to a screeching halt to collect the kids from preschool? This is delicate and precarious work, people.

But I played straight man, and focused my answer on surviving interruptions and finding your way back to your train of thought. Practical things, like taking quick notes on where you would have gone if you’d had the time. Key phrases, snippets of dialogue. It was all very reasonable, very "Dealing With Writing Interruptions for Dummies."

But in the time since I wrote it, I've realized the question was really about something else—the variety of ways people live as writers. How some people have lives organized around the writing, while others organize writing as best they can around the edges. Day jobs. Raising children. Maybe even, for people more well-rounded than I am, hobbies. Lives in which the writing has to pause to make dinner a whole lot.

Most of my ideas don’t come during my prescribed times at the computer—babysitter sessions and late nights, sometimes random insomniac hours. So I've gotten creative, like most writers probably do. Send myself texts from the waiting room at the pediatrician, take notes on whatever paper I dig out of the diaper bag. This can be risky business. I've written myself notes on the back of school forms—things like, How well can a husband and wife really know each other? or, It was so hard not to have that third drink—and once had the paper shyly returned. “You might want this,” the teacher said, eyes averted.

I don’t know how many writers are able to spend their days in creative seclusion, forsaking social responsibilities and basic hygiene while they whip themselves into a literary froth. I imagine that’s what it’s like to be at a writing colony, hour after hour of uninterrupted focus, day after day. Once a year or so, usually for a Christmas present, I get a writing weekend away, and my husband stays home with the kids. In the days leading up to these trips, anticipating 36 hours of no noise no parameters no safety net, I'm itchy as a junkie.

Writing without borders. A land without clocks. For most of us, The Writing Life isn't like that. The reality of the daily grind is a longing to write when you can’t, and interruptions when you do. It adds up to a long time getting the draft finished, getting the queries out, the revisions back to your editor. Some ideas will get lost while we make dinner, the spilled milk of the writing life.

Because the fact is, we simply can't do it all. There are choices. And whether you have to go to work or grocery shopping or go feed the chickens, sometimes writing has to take its ticket and stand in the deli line. You can be jealous of your friend who’s won a residence in a writer’s colony, and writes in a cottage with warm roast beef sandwiches delivered at lunchtime in a yellow tin pail. But for most of us, that's not where we are.

When I get too envious of the tin pail, I remind myself how lucky I am to pursue what I love, that I get to have a big raucous family and a book on the way. A book that took longer than it might have if I didn’t have the raucous family, but a book nonetheless.

And something else: At the end of the day, I feel lucky to know what I love to do. I have a friend who used to be in marketing, and after her kids hit elementary school she wanted to find some new kind of work. Chefs cook. Carpenters build, she said. What is it I DO?

Call it knowing what floats your boat, call it knowing the color of your parachute, call it whatever. But knowing what it is that you do, to my mind, is worth the interruptions that sometimes keep you from doing it.

Nichole Bernier has five children and knows a thing or two about interruptions. Her first novel, THE UNFINISHED WORK OF ELIZABETH D, will be published by Crown/Random House in early 2012 ( She is a Contributing Editor (and former staffer) at Conde Nast Traveler magazine, and a member of the literary blog Beyond the Margins (

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Guest Post: Will Self Publishing Make You Die????

by Livia King Blackburne

There's been quite a bit of talk on the interwebz lately about self-publishing, and I'm jumping on the bandwagon. I’ll leave discussions of sales numbers, platform, production values, etc. to other blogs. Today, we're going to take a look at a much more basic concern. That's right folks, we're going to look at whether self-publishing makes you die.

Now this requires some context. My own views on self publishing are pretty moderate (it’s doable, but incredibly hard work, and you should get objective confirmation that your writing is up to par), but I like reading discussions on the topic and sometimes lurk to see what self pub supporters and die-hard traditionalists have to say.

One self pub argument caught my attention. Given the odds for traditional publication, good manuscripts do slip through the cracks. In addition, with the advent of electronic publishing and POD, you can self publish with little or no financial investment. Since you've worked so hard on the novel, what's the harm of trying?

That kind of made sense. If you fail, at least you know it’s your fault and not because the acquisitions editor read your manuscript the week his mother-in-law was in town. Sure, there's stigma, and there will always be people who assume you’re selling your failures. But what's that to the knowledge that you really tried your best?

At that point, I caught myself. “But wait, Livia,” I said. “You're a psychologist. You can't just blithely ignore social factors as if they don't matter.” And I was right (funny how often that happens when you argue with yourself). Social status has considerable impact on health and quality of life.

There's one study that looked at the effect of social status on longevity. The researchers compared the lifespan of Nobel laureates to Nobel Prize nominees who didn't get the prize. The Nobel Prize winners ended up living on average 1.4 years longer than the nominees. Now remember that even the nominees were highly respected in their field and financially pretty well off. But being a laureate added over a year to the winners’ lifespans!

Once I remembered this, I became highly agitated. Was it possible that self-publishing writers were jumping in without realizing the risk to their health? Should I warn people, or should I just sit back and wait for the coming holocaust? I could just see it—self published writers dying off in droves, 1.4 years before their time.

Luckily, I caught myself again and realized I was jumping too quickly to conclusions.  Because many other factors contribute to your health. Among those is ability to control your circumstances .

And self publishers do win in the control department. They don't have to deal with the publishing roller coaster—the agent who loves your work but decides to leave the industry to become an organic farmer. The editor who inherits your manuscript from the editor who inherited your manuscript from the editor who took over your manuscript after your original editor left publishing house. The art department who decides that your children's book about puppies would really sell much better with hot vampires on the cover. All stressful events out of an author's control—events that in combination just might start shaving days off your life.

So what's the moral of the story? I’m not quite sure. Perhaps the best thing is not to think about it too much, and write the best book that you can.

Hmm... isn't that always the conclusion we come to at the end of the day? *sigh* Here's to many more happy years of writing for all.

So what do you think, writer friends?  Any aspects of your writing life cutting your days short?  Or is it smooth sailing?

Note: The research described and linked to from this article is real. If you haven't figured out by now, everything else—including interpretation of research, implications for the publishing industry and the pros and cons of self-publishing—should be taken with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Livia Blackburne is the author of From Words to Brain, an essay on the neuroscience and psychology of reading. On her blog, she explores the craft of writing from a neuroscientist's perspective.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Guest Post Winners!

Happy Wednesday, dear auteurs! I've finished reading through the many, many guest posts you sent my way, and because 1.) so many of your posts were so phenomenal and 2.) I have less time this week than I thought, I'm announcing an additional two guest posts that will be running tomorrow, December 30th and Friday, December 31st. O joy! O rapture!

Without further ado—

Thursday, December 30th: "Will Self Publishing Make You Die????" by Livia King Blackburne

Friday, December 31st: "Writer, Interrupted" by Nichole Bernier

Monday, January 3rd: "So You Want to Write a Novel" by David Kazzie

Tuesday, January 4th: "The Joys of a Threesome" by Beck McDowell

Wednesday, January 5th: "Print is Killing Publishing" by Joseph L. Selby

Thursday, January 6th: "A Sale is a Sale—Hard Copy or E-Book" by June Ahern

Friday, January 7th: "Is 'Kindling' for You?" by CJ Lyons

Many thanks to all who submitted, and congratulations to the winners. See you back here tomorrow morning for "Will Self Publishing Make You Die????"!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Apologies for the radio silence yesterday, mes auteurs, but I'm now dug out from under Snowpocalypse 2010 and bringing you a double-length post to make up for it. Think of it as Twofer Tuesday. Better yet: Twofer Tuesday™.

The word "enhanced" has taken on a funny meaning these days. First there were "enhanced interrogations," which apparently meant "waterboarding and other forms of torture." Then came "enhanced patdowns," which apparently meant "frisking bordering on sexual assault" or "strip-searching a seven-year-old." Classy, government. Very classy.

Now we have "enhanced e-books," which apparently means... well, we're still not quite sure, but it's supposed to be a hot new trend in e-publishing.

From what I've gathered over the past year or so, enhanced e-books are e-books containing "extra" material. The definition of "extra" depends on the publisher and the title at hand: author interviews/videos, social networking compatibility, iPhone, iPad, and Droid apps, and other varieties of electronic multimedia are all fair game. Books in the world of tomorrow™ will be more like the Internet and less like... well, books.

Not surprisingly, the Apple iPad is the device of choice for many enhanced e-books due to its color screen, multimedia compatibility, and app-centric disposition. But with the advent of machines like the color Nook (watch out, Amazon), that's not necessarily going to be the case in 2011.

Not to get all Lord of the Rings on you, orcs and lady orcs, but the (publishing) world is changed. Whether you like it or not, your books will become e-books and your e-books will become enhanced with Twitter roundtables, author videos, content-specific apps, and other electronic oddities. Publishers are trying to wring more money out of e-books for fear that the electronic format will bankrupt them the way it did the music industry, and "enhancing" the crap out of a book with a lot of extra material is one way to justify charging more for it.

One of the more novel—pardon the pun—applications of said enhancements is the Vook. (This beats out Barnes & Noble's ill-fated PubIt! as my least favorite publishing-related word.) Rather than tacking on the equivalent of director commentaries and blooper reels to books, the Vook relies on video files and the Internet to actually complete the written story, sort of like how brief cinematics fill in the gaps in storylines in a lot of video games.

Do I think we'll be reading Vooks (or even enhanced e-books) exclusively in five years? No—as I've said before, I expect the e-book to eventually become the (pre)dominant format, but I don't think it will utterly kill the physical book. I do think the large retail chains are in trouble, but if Barnes & Noble plays its cards right, it will continue to use the Nook to revolutionize its business practices and adapt to the new market.

As I've also said before, I think the the world of tomorrow™ will comprise e-retailers and independent booksellers, the latter specializing in rare and used physical books.

The industry is changing and will continue to change, folks, and it's undeniably becoming a more Internet-dependent, electronic, app-driven environment. As format competes with content to determine the future of publishing, I think we're going to see even bigger and more interesting developments in the new year.

That's it for today, ladies and gents. Stay tuned for the announcement of the five winning guest posts tomorrow!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Please Stand By

We're a little snowed under here at PMN today, gentle readers, but please stay tuned for today's post later this afternoon (and the announcement of guest post winners on Wednesday)!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Holidays!

In case you didn't know, cats & kittens, the publishing industry pretty much shuts down the week between Christmas and New Year's. Being the lazy forward-thinking young publishing professional I am, I have taken that week (and the week before it) off.

That's right, folks: I'm on vacation. So! Before I head off to celebrate Christmas with my non-Internet friends and family:

• Thanks again for reading, commenting on, and e-mailing about all things PMN this year;

• Have a safe, happy, and healthy holiday season;

• Don't forget to send in your guest post submissions by Monday, 12/27;

• See you next week!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

And Never the Twain Shall Meet

Note: Guest posts have already started trickling in, cats & kittens! Send yours before Monday, 12/27 at noon!

In the sales department, dear authors, we are beholden to two masters: publishers and buyers. The publishers are the folks in-house producing the books to be sold to book stores; as you've probably already guessed, the buyers are the ones at various retailers who are buying them. Publishers have one number in mind when creating a book to sell, and buyers have a (usually somewhat different) number in mind when they're buying.

When a book is acquired, a P&L ("profit and loss") statement is run, which (among other things) tells the publisher how many copies of the book they'll have to sell to break even given a certain advance to the author and a certain price point for the book.

Once this number is hashed out, a series of goals is created for each retailer (based on the P&L and selected comp titles). The major chains are assigned a goal, on-line retailers get one, independent booksellers, &c &c. The sales force then reviews these numbers and adjusts as necessary.

What this means, mes auteurs, is that the sales force is not ultimately charged with coming up with the highest number for a book, but with what they believe is the right number. Sometimes the publisher is disappointed because they think the sales rep's number is too low; sometimes the buyer will disagree with a rep because they believe the rep's number is too high. It's a delicate balancing act, and getting the two teams into the same ballpark is occasionally tricky.

What helps? Well, buyers are swayed by a lot of things, but chiefly they're concerned with publicity for the book in question, comp/previous title sales history, and the price. More publicity hits almost always help, especially confirmed appearances on talk shows or serious review attention (now shifting away from newspapers and toward bloggers). Good comps are, as I've said, important, as they also have a lot of influence on the final number.

As regards price: interestingly, a high price point will discourage a buyer from taking a large quantity, but a low price point won't necessarily encourage him or her (unless that low price point is communicated on the cover, say with a mass market edition that has a "Now $4.99!" starburst on it).

If you're ever unclear on your sales figures, you should feel free to ask your publisher (via your agent) about it (approaching the sales force directly is not a good idea). Knowing a little bit about the sales process for your first/previous book can be a big help to you when positioning and pitching your second/subsequent one.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sort of Semi-Annual Call for Guest Posts

It's that time of year again, mes auteurs! I'm going to be gone the first week of January (January 3rd through 7th), so I'm going to need five guest posts to start out the new year. You can send any and all such potential posts to pimpmynovel (åt) gmail (døt) com, but I'm particularly interested in the following topics:

• Your feelings about the ongoing e-pocalypse and how e-books will continue to impact your authorly duties in 2011;

• Successful self-publishing stories, particularly of the electronic variety;

• New Year's resolutions (how you stick to your writing goals, &c);

• Your hopes and dreams;

• Odes to my awesomeness.

Kidding! I'm not all that interested in your hopes and dreams.

Kidding again! I totally am. But odes to my awesomeness never hurt anyone. Just saying.

Entries will be accepted until Monday, December 27th at high noon (12:00 pm). The winning posts will be announced on Wednesday, December 29th.

Also, public service announcement: PMN will be closed for Christmas, so there will be no posts on Thursday, December 23rd or Friday, December 24th. My posts will resume on Monday, December 27th and will run through Friday, December 31st. Then it's 2011, meine Autoren, and the first week is all yours.

What are you waiting for? Get going! Only thirteen more writing days 'til Guestpostmas!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Rounding Up 2010

Friday round up with Laura:

Happy Friday, friends and foes. It's the week before Christmas (you know, the celebration of American consumerism, as imagined by Coca-Cola), which means this is your last round up of 2010. Sad faces! Happy faces! Slightly confused faces! On to the all important linkings.

This year in marginalia is super awesome. And, actually, if anyone knows where there's more, please link in the comments—I friggin' love marginalia. You may be tempted to write your own marginalia about the abundance of cliches in writing, but there's a reason we love cliches. There's also a reason we love authors, especially authors as celebrities (as opposed to celebrities as authors—JWoww, looking at you). Jane Austen is such a big celebrity she got her own Google doodle for her birthday. Dream: acquired.

Despite the abundance of doodles, sometimes we don't understand classics as well as we think we do. Some are crapping all over Oprah's understanding of Dickens, for example. They better not crap all over my interpretation of the classic series Animorphs, which is being relaunched. But since English is the next Latin, and is apparently going to die out, does it really matter? Just keep the politics out of your poetry and the pee off your library books, and you'll make it through fine.

So even though our e-books are spying on us, Amazon might accidentally pull down your self-pubbed incest book, literary agents are charging huge amounts for feedback, and Derek Jeter has a book deal, chins up—vacation time is just around the corner. Until 2011!

Thursday, December 16, 2010


As 2010 winds down, mes auteurs, I'd like to take this opportunity to do three things: one, sincerely thank you for reading and commenting on this, my tiny fiefdom in the vast feudal system that is the Internet; two, wish you a happy holiday season and a felicitous new year; and three, make a couple of announcements.

First: I dislike ads and so will not be adding them to PMN in the foreseeable future (they would annoy you and wouldn't make me much money).

However! I have, as a result of my perpetual sales mindset, been considering adding other monetizing features to the blog (such as a $0.99 – $1.99 e-book or two with exclusive content, or a Zazzle-type storefront). I'm not sure how much you need Shakespeare "O Snappe" t-shirts or PMN coffee mugs, buttons, and mousepads, but if there's demand, I'm all about the supply.

Second: There will be significant upgrades to the website in the first half of 2011. Stay tuned!

Third: There will be another call for guest posts in the near future. Stay even more tuned!

Fourth: There are now 365 PMN posts—one for every day of the year! Now that I think of it, maybe I should make a PMN page-a-day calendar...

Fourth: Any theories, ideas, suggestions, thoughts, vitriol, praise, articles of propoganda, and/or grand revelations on the above topics (or any topics, really) should go in the comments. Make haste! It's almost THE FUTURE!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Let's Say I Wrote a Book

I've been reviewing your comments and e-mails regarding self-publishing, dear readers, and so far no one has reported making more than a couple hundred dollars. Which, granted, is money you didn't have before, so for those of you making money self-publishing: well done!

Do I think you could make more money publishing traditionally? That's a tricky question. If you're a good writer who's willing to self-promote: probably. If not: no, because no one will buy your work. Regardless, as most of you know by now: a get-rich-quick scheme, self-publishing ain't.

But! Please keep sending e-mails my way. I'm happy to post about anyone making a living via self-publication, so long as I can see the numbers.

Now then: let's say I wrote and published a book.

I'm not saying whether I did or didn't; I'm just saying: supposing I did. What would my process look like? My self-promotion? My "do"s and "don't"s? And in what order would I do (or not do) those things?

In brand-new for 2011 Top-Ten-O-Vision™:

1. I probably wouldn't self-publish. As I've mentioned before, self-publishing is fine for some endeavors, but generally not for those that aim toward fame, glory, and money. Insofar as those can be attained via writing books, that is.

2. I'd probably start with a smaller press. Not that I'm saying the Big Six would be knocking down my door for a publishing contract; rather, authors generally get more attention from smaller presses, and since the advance and co-op dollars available for a début author usually aren't phenomenal regardless of publisher, I don't see a real downside. I'm all about more one-on-one time and input on the details.

3. I'd be social networking my tiny black publishing heart out. I'd be tweeting. And announcing things on Facebook. And keeping a personal blog. And setting up an author website. And guest-blogging. And doing podcasts. And making sure an e-book version's available. And and and. You get the idea, cats & kittens. I wouldn't want a digital footprint, I'd want a digital impact crater.

4. I'd be real-world networking my tiny black publishing heart out. Everything from getting in face time with the owners and salespeople at my local independent book stores to doing in-store author events & readings. You get a lot of breadth but little depth with social networking, so I think it's important to complement one's electronic self-promotion with a little old-fashioned legwork. I'd be getting out there and meeting people before you could say honey, come quick, that misanthropic publishing guy is actually leaving his apartment.

5. I'd be soliciting reviews. Editors of literary magazines, fellow authors/writers, bloggers, independent booksellers, and various friends, family members, and accomplices who frequent Amazon are all fair game. I imagine the publisher would help out with this, as most have a lot of industry connections and could do a review copy mailing pretty easily. Reviews are worth their Microsoft Word file size in gold, mes auteurs. People can't read what they don't know about.

6. One word: conferences. This sort of ties into #4 above, but I figure it deserves special attention. Readings and book signings expose you to one audience; hanging out with indie booksellers, another; and electronic media like Facebook and Twitter render you vaguely recognizable to a yet another (arguably larger) one. But there's nothing like a conference to get everyone—booksellers, writers, readers, librarians, publishers, editors, professors, salespeople, you name it—all in the same room. I'd go to any relevant conference I could afford.

7. I'd review the work of others. Whether via book reviews in fancy literary magazines or blog posts, writing book reviews garners you 1.) general good karma, 2.) goodwill from those you review (assuming you do so positively), and 3.) street cred as a serious reader and writer of literature. In terms of positive and negative reviewing, I draw the line as follows: if I'm reviewing books in my capacity as an editor or reviewer for a magazine, I'll feel free to review negatively that which I believe warrants a negative review. If I'm doing it to widen my own exposure and that of the author/text at hand, better only to review titles I know I can say something good about.

8. I'd invest in the work of others. This is a generalization of #7 above, and it won't always earn you direct attention/acclaim, but it's a necessary aspect of participating in a literary community: you've got to give as well as take. Attend readings, subscribe to magazines and buy books you like, &c &c. The more you support others, the more others will want to support you. Or, at the very least, they'll feel guilty if they don't.

9. I'd take regular breaks. I can't run at 100% power 100% of the time, bros and she-bros, and neither can you. Regular days off and vacations are part of the working life, and writing—as we all know—is work.

10. I'd keep on keepin' on. With all this self-promoting, you'd think I wouldn't have time for anything else. But you'd be wrong! There's always another story, another book, waiting in the wings. Some of us are slower or faster than others, more or less prolific, but the key is: so long as you're always writing/working on your next project, you're much less likely to lose momentum and stall out in the midst of your career. I'd be selling one project while writing the next and planning the one after that.

That's it for today, meine Autoren. Questions? Ideas? Theories? Schematics? To the comments!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Prithee, Inform Me: Your Self-Publishing Experiences

Over the past couple of years, mes auteurs, a handful of you have expressed the opinion that you (or authors in general) are better off self-published, occasionally citing your personal, positive experiences in having done so. Being the skeptical (but more or less open-minded) sort, I therefore ask: what have your self-publishing experiences been like?

If you have short anecdotes, please feel free to leave them in the comments; longer explanations can be e-mailed to me at pimpmynovel [åt] gmail [døt] com. Unless you specify otherwise in your e-mail, I'll go ahead and reference any details you provide (sales figures, your name, link to your website, and so on). Please be as specific as possible.

If you don't have any experience with self-publishing... well, feel free to comment or send an e-mail anyway. It's a well-known fact we publishing folk are perpetually starved for attention.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sing a Song of BISAC

Our discussion of genre sales over the past two weeks has brought something to my attention, mes auteurs: I've never properly explained to you exactly how genre classifications are established and handled.

The Book Industry Study Group (of which the vast majority of publishers, via the Association of American Publishers, are members) employs a system of BISAC (Book Industry Standards and Communications) codes, which provide a framework (both conceptual and technological) for identifying a title's genre.

The most recent BISAC code list can be found here; keep in mind that whatever you're writing is going to have to be coded under at least one of these categories (many books have a secondary or even tertiary BISAC code), so try not to go too bananas with your proposed genre (e.g. "it's a literary romantic psycho-suspense thriller with elements of science fiction Western").

I suppose you could go in under NON-CLASSIFIABLE if you felt you had to, but 1.) that's not super helpful, 2.) it won't make your book even remotely easy to find in book stores, and 3.) your code will be "NON000000," which is one of the more depressing-looking ones. It's almost as if the book is crying out for a better BISAC code ("No! NOOOOOOOOO").

So, for example, if you're writing paranormal romance, your BISAC code will be FIC027120 (FICTION / Romance / Paranormal). If you're writing a book about stamp collecting, you'll get ANT044000 (ANTIQUES & COLLECTIBLES / Stamps). They get pretty specific, so it's unlikely you'll write something that can't easily be mapped to the system.

If you're writing something that could just as easily be one genre as another (say, science fiction or thriller), it's no big deal to have one as your primary BISAC and the other as your secondary (though the primary will pretty much determine who buys the book at the larger accounts like Barnes & Noble and where the book will eventually live in the store).

All the details of BISAC coding will be handled by your publishing house, but if for some reason you're concerned about it, you can always ask via your agent. (Remember, kids: always ask your agent first!)

And now you know!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Revenge of the Round Up

Friday round up time with Laura:

Hello, friends and foes! It's been quite some time since our last round up, and I've pined for you terribly. There's been a lot of important things going on, which, you know, okay, but also a lot of fun things. And I'm nothing if not pro-fun. And stay tuned for the end, where I will list resources for you that list books you can buy for people as gifts, and uphold your mantle as "book bringer."

Let's start with the truly absurd. Sarah Palin says she reads! Little does she realize, going to see the Clifford's big red musical doesn't count as reading. This is almost as good as Chinese publishers releasing an erotic translation of Grimm fairy tales by accident. That's right, Germanic fairy tales were translated into Japanese, sexed up, translated into Chinese, and published for children. Hilarity ensues? It's almost as tragically funny as the comments on this article about MFAs versus the NYC book scene.

Alas, we have no place for absurdity in this cold, hard world. You know why? Because Christine O'Donnell has a book deal. Am I surprised? No. Do I wish I were hot enough to jump on this bandwagon of women who know very little and deliver political soundbites? Absolutely. I bet in the end of her book the recession is the butler's fault, even though the butler almost never does it, whatever "it" is. Murder? Usually? Natalie Portman commited book murder, but got a really cute purse out of the deal, so I'm okay with it. Frankenstein might commit murder on the big screen soon, too. Barnes and Nobles and Borders might murder each other and merge, rising from their joint ashes, which could be cool, but probably not. And hey, stuff about the real murder that inspired Stieg Larsson! Super fun.

All of this murder talk makes me think of murder's brother in arms, cash money. Contemporary writers just missed a golden goose, as Oprah chose Charles Dickens for her book club. He's dead, Oprah. He doesn't need your seal of approval to eat anymore. Romance writers are rolling the cash money as romance e-books thrive. Now the Hunger Games movie has a $60 million budget, which I'm happy to help them spend if they need, and Smashwords helped a single dad self publish himself from poverty to wealth. You heard it here first, folks: self publishing makes everyone everywhere a millionaire. Immediately. Always.

As for your lists, I give you: the best 2010 crime books, the books you need to be a critic, and must gives from Salonica and Omnivoracious. Don't forget these 10 trends in kids' lit while you're buying, and remember to buy your kids whatever they want to read, yeah?

Until next week!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Genre Sales 2: Romance (Part 8 of 8)

Finally, mes auteurs, part 8 of 8: romance. Not that romance is the least important genre—far from it! As near as I can tell (based on the usual caveats of "I determined this via BookScan, personal experience, and anecdote, and if you lose money doing something you thought I told you to do, it's not my fault"), the romance genre is either flat or a little up year-on-year. Hooray!

It looks like paranormal romance is still leading the pack, though historical romance (particularly the ever-popular regency) and contemporary romance are still going strong. While there are sci-fi/fantasy-romance-type cross-genre titles making some money these days, they appear to be in the minority. We can't all be time travelers and/or their wives, cats & kittens.

Why is romance currently doing well? As usual, I have some ideas.

Romance does well in economic recessions. We all love happy endings, dear readers, and most romance titles end up well. The guy gets the girl (or the other guy); the girl gets the guy (or the other girl); we can relate to the emotions involved and the crazy lives the protagonists lead, and we want to end up as happy as they end up. It's human nature.

Escapism also does well in recessions. As I've mentioned before, fantastical stories of magic and wonder do well when the alternative is looking at the stark reality of your stock portfolio. This translates into increased romance title sales as paranormal romance continues to draw market share within the larger romance genre.

Ladies love romance, and most reader are ladies. A little stereotypical, but generally true—see yesterday's post.

Therefore, meine Autoren, in all's-well-that-ends-well Bullet-O-Vision™:

• Romance is doing all right. All right!

• Paranormal romance seems to be doing the all right-est, but don't get your vampire on just yet: historical and contemporary romance are also doing well.

• This is probably because happy endings (general romance) and overall escapism (general romance and fantasy) are attractive genres during economic downturns.

• I hadn't mentioned this previously, but if you're worried about e-book sales, despair not! Romance titles seem to be doing particularly well (chiefly, à mon avis, due to the brand loyalty exhibited especially strongly by romance readers), and there's no reason to think this trend won't continue into the future.

That's the end of our two-week-long genre sales breakdown extravaganza, mes auteurs. Praise, vitriol, and theories (conspiracy or otherwise) are welcome in the comments!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Genre Sales 2: Women's Literature (Part 7 of 8)

So here's the deal with chick lit/women's literature, cats & kittens: first, there's the somewhat viable argument that general fiction is women's fiction (and vice versa), and second, this category isn't well broken out in BookScan, so the numbers are more than a little fuzzy.

That said, it seems like the general market is a pretty good barometer for the state of chick lit/women's fiction, which is to say: flat or a little down, but since the market as a whole is flat or a little down (down chiefly in hardcover), it's not really that bad. This genre still comprises a sizable component of all adult fiction sold in the United States, so if you're writing it, you're probably in decent shape.

Reasons and theories, you ask? Why, certainly:

Most book readers are women. In one sense or another, most books published in this country are marketed toward and sold to women (especially fiction). For this reason, whatever the overall fiction market is doing is a decent proxy for how women's fiction is doing.

Most general fiction débuts in hardcover. While this is changing somewhat (trade paper originals are becoming more commonplace), the fact that most fiction (and most women's fiction) starts out in the hardcover $20-ish price range means that, in this economic climate, initial orders are smaller, gross sales are smaller, and the amount of cash flowing back to the publisher is—you guessed it—smaller.

That said, the market is large—and growing. If you're writing fiction for women, you're already writing for the largest reading demographic in the country. General women's fiction has broad appeal, relatively high breakout potential, and offers a very wide range of subject matter in which to find one's niche. While there's no guarantee of bestsellerdom (there never is), you're more likely to achieve it writing women's fiction than, say, science fiction or literary fiction.

Finally, as the e-book market continues to grow and e-reader prices continue to come down, look out for sustained major growth in electronic sales for mainstream genres like this.

Therefore, mes auteurs, in mainstream, commercial Bullet-O-Vision™:

• Women's fiction/chick lit sales are flat or down, but only because the overall market is flat or down.

• The market is a large one, so while it will be harder to get your individual voice heard or to really break out in a major way, it won't be as hard as with other genres to establish yourself as a midlist presence.

• As e-books go more and more mainstream, expect electronic sales of women's fiction to go right along with the overall market. Again, my guess is that e-books will comprise 50% of the market by late 2013 or 2014.

Tomorrow—last, but certainly not least—romance!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Genre Sales 2: Science Fiction (Part 6 of 8)

In the not-too-distant future, an intrepid young sales commander voyages into the unknown realms of... GENRE WARS BREAKDOWNS

Yes, science fiction, mes auteurs. Whether it's gritty military sci-fi, space opera, futuristic cyber punkdom/crimery (I'm being a little inventive with the jargon here), or something a little loonier (think The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), science fiction asks The Big Questions™ in the politically distanced, freer, and generally, more technologically advanced arena of the future (or occasionally a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away). Fantastic things happen, dear readers, but unlike in fantasy, they're things that could maybe happen someday! It's no magic, all science, all the time.

Keeping all the usual caveats in mind, it seems to me (again, based on the data available to me and anecdotal evidence from the folks selling these titles) that science fiction is either flat or a little down compared to 2009. As usual, I have a couple of theories as to why.

The genre has been pretty quiet this year and last. Without any phenomenally huge blow-out titles, the sales numbers probably more or less accurately reflect the general state of midlist fiction in this country, which (sadly) appears to be down year-on-year.

Americans apparently find science, fictional or not, scary. Back when we were trying to build colossal ocean liners or kill Nazis or beat the Russians or conquer space, science was cool and science fiction served as a method of exploring humanity's potential. I can't help but wonder whether our current dismal attitude toward science (made no better by our overly administrative, under-funded, and overwhelmingly lukewarm space program) has contributed to the decline of the genre since the Golden Age of Science Fiction (which ended in the late '50s) and the later New Wave Science Fiction ('60s, '70s, and first couple years of the '80s).

Maybe the Large Hadron Collider will help. Dr. Higgs and the Boson of Doom, anyone?

A lot of the cool science fiction crossovers are getting poached by other genres. I can't tell you how many times I created a kit for what I thought was a sci-fi title, only to discover it was being sold in as (futuristic) romance. Or fantasy (fantasy, as we have seen, sells). Or mystery/thriller (something like Minority Report could very well be sold today to the thriller buyer at a book store). With less and less hardcore science fiction available and, apparently, a smaller market for it, it's no surprise the numbers are going down.

The bright spot is, mes auteurs, that writers and readers of science fiction were the first to adopt the e-book (in the late '90s, before it was cool), and thus Our Coming Electronic Overlords may be the best thing to happen to science fiction since Asimov. For the time being, anyway—e-books are already surprisingly mainstream, and once they reach parity with physical books in the market, I don't think the genre will retain much of an edge.

So in that time-honored format that has, in fact, returned from the distant future to save all bulletkind:

• Sci-fi sales seem to be down. Frak.

• This is probably due to Americans not being super amped about science. Now that I think of it, it's also possible—though to a lesser extent—that some of it is due to women making up the majority of book buyers, while making up a minority of sci-fi readers.

• E-book sales are, I think, good for now and potentially still on the up-and-up, but I expect this to level out over time.

That's all for today, Borg and Klingons. Next up: Women's fiction! Tomorrow!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Genre Sales 2: Literary Fiction (Part 5 of 8)

Alack! Alas! Alas and alack, mes auteurs: despite the ubiquitous Franzenfreude of this past year, literary fiction (as a genre) still appears to be down numbers-wise (read: gross dollars) on an annual basis.

This probably doesn't come as a big surprise to most of you. John and Jane Q. Public, percentage-wise, don't read a lot of literary fiction; the lion's share of fiction seems to go to children's/YA, fantasy, and romance (chiefly of the paranormal variety), though thrillers and "general fiction" (mostly women's fiction) are also larger wedges of the pie.

I'm not sure I can give you a whole lot in terms of specific theories about why literary fiction is down; it's probably for the same reasons people never watch movies that won prestigious awards but have seen Air Bud like thirty times. Most people watch non-cerebral television shows, go to see non-cerebral movies, and read non-cerebral books. Even the cerebral among us have been known to watch Jersey Shore or read Twilight.

If you're writing literary fiction, you probably already realize it's more a labor of love than a serious commercial enterprise (though I wish it weren't, and that you could command a six-figure advance and sell tens of thousands of copies). Your advance will be lower than average, your sales figures will be lower than average, and unless you're both phenomenally talented and phenomenally lucky (a rare combination), you won't be the next Michael Chabon or Zadie Smith.

Literary fiction is also hard to write. Like, really hard, bros and she-bros. Everything hinges on your ability, and not so much on your killer (or not-so-killer) plot. I have seen successful self-help books and middle grade novels written by people who cannot, in my estimation, write their way out of a paper bag. I have yet to see a decent literary novel guilty of the same.

Therefore, in Ye Olde Starvinge Artiste's Bullet-O-Vision™:

· Literary fiction sales (gross dollars) appear to be down year-on-year. As Shakespeare once said: O snappe.

· While sad, this is probably not super surprising, and probably does not reflect a decreasing trend in American interest as regards fine literature.

· Americans have largely been uninterested in fine literature for about 240 years, although I suppose books were more important before there were radio shows and television and the Internet and Xboxes.

· Sorry, I seem to be channeling Kurt Vonnegut here.

· If you're curious about e-books, the 10% rule (see previous posts in this series) seems to hold firm, although it may be impacted by electronic sales of Franzen's Freedom.

Tomorrow: Science fiction!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Genre Sales 2: Mystery/Thriller (Part 4 of 8)

You knew it was coming, mes auteurs: bad news. Not colossal bad news! Not doom! I'm not dropping Mordor on your party! However, it does look like (based on sales data and a sprinkle of anecdotal evidence) that the mystery/thriller genre is flat or down in terms of sales this year.

While it doesn't look like there's a downward trend within 2010 (that is, each month doesn't appear to be getting progressively worse), sales for mystery and thriller titles do seem to be significantly down year-on-year, and this trend seems more pronounced for mysteries than thrillers (the latter category is basically flat to 2009).

Why is this? Well, as usual, I have some theories.

Mysteries and thrillers are psychologically taxing. As I mentioned yesterday, part of the reason fantasy titles (ditto romance—tune in next week!) do well during economic downturns is because they provide escapism, happy endings, &c. While mysteries and thrillers may turn out well, they tend to be darker, stressful for the reader ("suspenseful," "riveting," &c), and don't guarantee happy endings of any sort. Who wants to be terrified by a book when you can be terrified for free by your stock portfolio?

Mysteries and thrillers usually start out as expensive hardcovers. Don't get me wrong: genre fiction in general is conducive to the cheaper mass market format (see yesterday's post on fantasy), and many fantasy titles do start out as hardcovers, but it seems to me that mysteries and thrillers show up as hardcovers slightly more often. Additionally, the shorter average page count (compared to fantasy) means that reincarnated mysteries and thrillers appear to be sold slightly more often as trade papers rather than mass markets, and trade paperbacks tend to run $12 – $16 (compared to $4 – $9 for mass markets).

Two words: Dan Brown. Complete honesty: I have no idea exactly how many copies Dr. B sold of The Lost Symbol, and I can't share the proprietary BookScan information with you. Suffice it to say: when you're comparing mysteries/thrillers in 2010 to 2009—a year in which one title in said genre sold millions of copies—it's going to skew the numbers a little bit. That said, I'm certain the Dan Brown numbers do not account for the entirety of the disparity, and fairly certain they don't account for the majority of it.

Finally, if you're worried about e-books: don't be. At least, not any moreso than you already are. The standard 10% rule (i.e. 10% of all sales are electronic) for adult trade seems to be holding here.

Therefore, meine Autoren, in Noble and Most Ancient Bullet-O-Vision™:

· Mystery/thriller sales in 2010 are down compared to 2009. Womp womp.

· This is probably due to the psychologically taxing nature of the genre, the fact that mysteries and thrillers tend to début in pricey hardcovers, and the fact that 2009 was a slightly unusual (read: Dan Brown) year.

· Electronic sales for this genre are more or less in line with the rest of the market.

All questions, comments, vitriol, praise, &c in the comments section, dear readers, and when we return on Monday: Jonathan Franzen literary fiction!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Genre Sales 2: Fantasy (Part 3 of 8)

Fantasy is a complicated genre, cats & kittens. You've got your Tolkien-style epic fantasy, your hip urban fantasy, your fantasy with sci-fi elements, and your romantic fantasy (which is completely different from your paranormal romance!), just to name a few. There are vampires and demons (sometimes daemons!), witches and wizards, fairies, faeries, and phaeyries (I made that last one up), and all varieties of magic(k)s.

Simply put: summarizing fantasy title sales is hard.

That said, it looks like (once again) the genre is doing well, either flat or a little up to last year. Although the effects of the recession are wearing off, there are a few key reasons (à mon avis) why fantasy sales are still doing well. Again, all the usual caveats (see parts 1 and 2) apply:

Escapism. Who doesn't want to live in an enchanted land where you can wield arcane magic(k)s against a host of undeniably evil foes? (Especially when the alternative is looking at your year-to-date return on your 401(k).) While I don't expect fantasy sales to suddenly tank when the economy truly turns bullish again, I do think our lingering economic woes contribute to our desires to seek out escapist fantasy, which in turn convert to sales.

The mass market format. The fantasy genre in particular lends itself to the mass market format, and frankly, you can't beat $5 – $9 for a book. Almost every other form of entertainment is more expensive, and while I do expect e-sales to eat away at the mass market's dominance over the next couple of years (we're already starting to see it), the low price point attracts a lot of consumers. (See below for more notes on the fantasy genre and e-books.)

The series effect. Fantasy books also lend themselves well to serialization, and once you hook a reader on a series, you're golden. Who's going to read the first book in the EverMagicks War Chronicles and not read the subsequent eight books, assuming they liked the first? Especially if those subsequent books are, say, $6.99 apiece? That's what I thought.

Now, unlike children's fantasy (see yesterday's post), adult trade fantasy titles are far from immune to the specter (or, worse yet, spectre) of e-books. If you're writing in this genre, be prepared to discuss e-book rights with your agent, as well as blog, tweet, and participate in all varieties of social media. The Kindle, nook, and iPad are now your friends.

Numbers-wise, it looks like fantasy title sales are more or less in line with the rest of the market in terms of the ratio of e-books to physical books sold (e-books probably comprise about 10% of sales in terms of units). Depending on the average price of e-books, this could be a little higher or lower in terms of dollars. My guess is it's not that different, though this may change if and when e-book prices come way down.

So, mes auteurs, for your bullet-reading pleasure:

• Fantasy is doing well as a genre. Hooray!

• The nature of the content, preferred format, and predisposition toward series probably contribute to its continued good health. Crossover between children's/YA and adult (Deathly Hallows, anyone?) also probably helps. I can't think of another genre in which adult and kids' literature sees so much overlap.

• Adult trade fantasy sales are, like the rest of adult trade fiction, favoring the electronic formats more and more. It is, in fact, entirely possible that your book will only be sold as an e-book by the time you find representation.

That's all the news that's fit to blog, meine Autoren. Tomorrow: mysteries! Thrillers!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Genre Sales 2: Children's/YA (Part 2 of 8)

Technical problems delayed today's post—sorry, everyone! — E

As we forage into the domain of children's and young adult literature, mes auteurs, keep in mind that this isn't exactly my forte. Therefore! In addition to my usual caveats (this is not legal advice, if you lose money because you did something you thought I told you to do it's not my fault, &c), also: my background in and biases toward adult trade will likely show through here, so please don't hesitate to call me out in the comments if you find me a bit afield.

Now then!

Based on my experience, some numbers, some intuition, and some anecdotal evidence, it looks like children's/YA is flat or slightly up compared to last year. As I've mentioned before, this/these genre(s) weren't as badly hit by the last couple of years' recession because 1.) children's books tend to be less expensive on a per-unit basis than adult books, and 2.) people may cut back on spending for themselves when times are lean, but they're much less likely to cut back on stuff for their kids. Especially if stuff = books.

It also appears that children's/YA literature is remarkably resistant to the electronic format, especially as regards titles for younger children (age six and under). This shouldn't really come as a surprise; picture books, pop-up books, &c are still very much reliant on the vehicle of the physical book. I'm not sure kids this age actually prefer physical books to e-books, but parents are less likely to trust the little ones with iPhones than, say, durable board books, and it seems that parents also prefer to read to children from physical media. For now.

For older kids (middle grade and young adult), sales of physical books still seem to dominate those of e-books, though not to the same extent. I imagine that as e-reader prices come down and teenagers (who are already super comfortable with electronic media) start to get these as gifts from tech-savvy family members, we'll start to see that change.

In terms of sub-genre breakouts, the numbers get a little dodgy. Sales do seem to be pretty solid in the YA fantasy area, so while vampires are a bit tired, you're probably in good company if you've got demons, daemons, witches, &c floating around.

Thus, in high-quality, twenty-four karat Bullet-O-Vision™:

• If you're writing children's/YA, you're in luck! Sales are pretty solid and you actually have a shot at making money. Not J.K. Rowling money, but you're better off than most writers of adult fiction. (More to come on this front as this week unfolds! Also next week.)

• The encroachment of e-book sales isn't occurring as extensively or as rapidly in children's/YA as in adult trade, so you don't have to worry about making your ms look good on the iPad. (Yet.) You'll still probably want to talk to your agent about how e-rights will be handled. Yes, even for the un-e-bookable.

• Within the larger realm of children's/YA, fantasy (of all stripes) continues to sell well. What can I say? Kids love magic.

And that's all I've got for you today, meine Autoren. You know where to go for comments, and next up: fantasy! For grown-ups!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Genre Sales 2: Mash-Up (Part 1 of 8)

Your votes are in, mes auteurs, and after taking careful tally I've decided to cover the following genres over the next eight days:

Tuesday, November 30th: Mash-Up
Wednesday, December 1st: Children's/YA
Thursday, December 2nd: Fantasy
Friday, December 3rd: Mystery/Thriller

Monday, December 6th: Literary Fiction
Tuesday, December 7th: Science Fiction
Wednesday, December 8th: Chick Lit/Women's Fiction
Thursday, December 9th: Romance

And we'll have the usual round-up from Laura on Friday, December 10th.

The usual disclaimer: this is all my opinion, I'm not responsible for any lost time or money you might suffer due to taking my opinion as cold hard fact, this post is not for ophthalmic use, &c &c.

Without further ado—mash-ups!

For those not familiar, the mash-up (in this sense) is a novel that combines a pre-existing text with new material; while the concept isn't new, the literary mash-up of today was more or less created a couple of years ago by Seth Grahame-Smith in his Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. After the enormous success of the book, a number of "resurrected" classics (e.g. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Little Women and Werewolves) arose, creating a sort of independent genre at the intersection of literary classics and humor.

Funny? You bet. The first time, anyway.

If any of you are currently writing mash-ups, my advice is: cut it out. My sense of the market (based on experience in-house, sales numbers through services like BookScan, and anecdote) is that it's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies in the lead with a number of imitations (many of which are pretty middling) tied for a very, very distant second. My opinion (opinion! not fact) is that this trend has pretty much run its course, and if you're jumping on the bandwagon now (in the hopes of publishing in 2011, 2012, or later), you're probably too late, regardless of how sweet your title/concept was.

This, by the way, goes for 99% of the trends you're seeing in publishing these days: whether it's vampires, zombies, Vikings, or mash-ups, the flavor of the day is exactly that: temporary. Just like in the stock market, if enough people are doing something for you to notice a trend, it's probably too late for you to capitalize on it. That ship has sailed; keep on doing what you do and don't worry about what everyone else is doing.

Unless, of course, your book is coming out at a time when your genre or topic is a hot commodity, in which case: go even more nuts promoting yourself and separating yourself from the pack than you otherwise would. But this isn't something you can predict or have any control over.

So, my advice for writing mash-ups is:

1. Don't.
2. If you're dead-set on it, at least pick an interesting classic that hasn't been done yet.
3. Make sure the text you're working with is in the public domain. If it isn't, you're going to have to get permission from the author/his or her estate/his or her publisher, and you're going to have to split any profits you derive.
4. You probably won't see (m)any profits.

Tomorrow, dear readers: children's/young adult literature!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Prithee, Inform Me: Genre Sales Breakdowns (Redux)

It's that time of year again, mes auteurs!

I've gotten a few suggestions via The Twitter, but since I realized many of you may not be Twitter-inclined, I've decided to open up the official vote to the blog. I'll do four genres this week (including Friday, as Ms. Ombreviations will be away on vacation) and (potentially!) another four next week, so vote while the voting's good.

As always, if your genre of choice isn't represented in the poll, please mention it in the comments!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

We'll return to our regularly scheduled programming on Monday, November 29th. Until then, have a happy and safe holiday!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Terms to Know: Returns

350th post! Hooray! — E

It's been awhile since I've gone back to the basics, mes auteurs, so today's post is on that bête noire of the publishing world: returns.

The book business differs from most other commercial enterprises in that stock sold by the content provider (publisher) to retailers (book stores) is 100% returnable: if a book store can't sell its stock to consumers, it sends it right back to the house.

This is a holdover from Depression-era economics designed to get retailers to take books under circumstances they normally wouldn't (i.e., by drastically reducing, if not totally erasing, their exposure to risk). With the exception of a very small number of select retailers ("special markets" that don't sell books as their primary product), all retailers are allowed to return unsold stock to the publisher.

What does this mean for you, dear authors?

Well, assuming you earn out your advance, it can (partially) explain why it takes publishers awhile to calculate your royalties, as the returns reduce their gross sales (billing, or the money they made by selling stock to retailers) to net sales. If your royalty structure takes this into account, the publisher needs to wait for returns to come back before issuing you a check.

Occasionally, a publisher will even withhold money against future returns in a kind of escrow account, which means that money that is technically yours won't be paid out until returns are calculated several months down the line.

Granted, the problem could be "fixed" by moving the industry en masse back to a firm sale model (that is, no returns), but even if something like that could be done (which seems doubtful—see below), all it would mean would be a sharp reduction in stock for début and midlist authors like yourselves. If you force the stores to take on their own risk in today's bookselling environment, they'll simply cut their orders for anything that isn't a sure thing (read: James Patterson and Sarah Palin).

The good news is, cats & kittens, that it soon won't matter whether physical books are returnable because the market will shift principally to e-books over the next decade. Problems pertaining to physical books that plague today's publishers and retailers—warehouse space, shipping and return costs, physical co-op, &c—don't and won't apply to e-books, so returns will become a thing of the past and you'll get your royalty statements faster. Some of you who have successfully published e-books already know this.

In short: yes, returns are a pain, and yes, the industry has been running on an outmoded and inefficient sales model for the past 80 years. At this point, however, it isn't worth changing: as e-books become the primary format for the written (and read) word, the issue will become more or less moot.

That said: if you're planning on publishing a book this decade, plan on getting a call from your agent at some point asking if you'd like to buy your returned/remaindered units at cost. And don't be surprised if your royalty statements, should you get any, take their sweet time arriving in your mailbox.

Tomorrow: Thanksgiving festivities begin, meine Autoren, so I'll be taking a short break. We'll be back with the return of genre sales breakdowns on Monday, November 29th!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Unfair Use

In case you haven't been on the Interwebz in a few days, mes auteurs, here's the scoop: Gawker published an excerpt of Sarah Palin's forthcoming book, America By Heart, and Mama Grizzly got super mad. She had a judge issue an order for Gawker to take down the leaked pages, and now Palin and Gawker, llc will face off in court on November 30th.

Now, according to Ben Smith of Politico, it does look like Gawker may have been in the wrong: apparently Harper & Row Publishers v. Nation Enterprises, 471 U.S. 539 (1985) establishes a precedent for this sort of thing (dealing with the then-unpublished memoir by Gerald Ford, A Time to Heal). It even seems that Palin could use the avenue of discovery to retaliate against the "lamestream media" that has been "criticizing her" for so long.

The thing is, meine Autoren, after having read the four-balance test of fair use under Title 17 of the United States Code, I really don't see why Gawker's use of Palin's words doesn't fall under the protection of fair use. (Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.) The four-balance test for fair use basically asks these questions:

1. What's the purpose of the use? This seems, to me, to fall under news reporting/criticism, which is protected.

2. What's the nature of the copyrighted work? This is where (I think) you could make the argument that fair use doesn't apply because the work is unpublished—except that 17 U.S.C. § 107 actually says, "The fact that a work is unpublished shall not itself bar a finding of fair use if such finding is made upon consideration of all the above factors."

3. How much of the work was reproduced? In this case, a few pages out of a 304-page book. No biggie.

4. Will reproducing this work hurt the market for the book? I can't see how it would; if anything, it will add to Palin's exposure and increase her sales, potentially with an audience who generally finds her insufferable (i.e. most people who read Gawker).

It seems to me that Gawker should be able to print those excerpted pages with or without Palin's permission, and I don't really see why they should lose their case next month. Then again, the precedent of Harper & Row Publishers v. Nation Enterprises, 471 U.S. 539 does sort of complicate things, so I may not have all the facts here.

What do you think, mes amis? (Particularly you lawyers in the audience.)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sleep Deprivation Round Up

Friday round-up with Laura:

Morning, friends and foes. I went to the Harry Potter midnight show (because I'm a mature adult, thank you very much), and so the round-up is going to be lackluster. How is this different from the usual? I have no idea!

Speaking of HPotts, check out these insane Potter fan moments. There's a great (but kind of spoilery, so maybe wait on this) interview with the Harry Potter screenplay adapter too. If you want J.K. Rowling status fame, you should sign up with James Frey and the Sorcerer's Writer Sweatshop. Or you can be part of an academic writing sweatshop, and write papers so poor, illiterate folks can get degrees they don't deserve.

Is your day too literate so far? Behold, leaked pages from Sarah Palin's book! She's either pissed about the leak, trolling for more media attention, or some combo of the both. Guess which one I'm leaning toward. I bet her next book is published by Chelsea Handler's imprint, which totally exists now. Maybe it'll be accompanied by Dan Rather's new book? Or a modern translation of the Talmud? These all seem like things Handler would be interested in.

Well, friends and foes, I'm off to caffeinate heavily and try to be functional post-Potter. Or maybe I'm off to read about literary puns. It's a 50/50 shot. Until next week!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Other NBA

For those of you that missed it (either in person or via the #nba10 Twitter hashtag), the 61st annual National Book Awards were presented last night in New York City. While yours truly was neither a winner (they have yet to institute a blogging category) nor an in-person attendee, I had fun following via the Interwebz and am pleased to announce this year's winners:

Lifetime achievement award: Tom Wolfe (whose speech apparently went on forever).

Young people's literature: Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine (NOTE: while her writing may be superb, her website is an example of what yours should not look like). (Other finalists: Paolo Bacigalupi, Ship Breaker; Laura McNeal, Dark Water; Walter Dean Myers, Lockdown; Rita Williams-Garcia, One Crazy Summer.)

Poetry: Lighthead by Terrance Hayes. (Other finalists: Kathleen Graber, The Eternal City; James Richardson, By the Numbers; C.D. Wright, One with Others; Monica Youn, Ignatz.)

Nonfiction: Just Kids, Patti Smith. (Other finalists: Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea; John W. Dower, Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11, Iraq; Justin Spring, Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward; Megan K. Stack, Every Man in This Village Is a Liar: An Education in War.)

Fiction: Lord of Misrule, Jaimy Gordon. (Other finalists: Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America; Nicole Krauss, Great House; Lionel Shriver, So Much for That; Karen Tei Yamashita, I Hotel.)

Suffice it to say, I have four more books to add to the "to-read" pile, including the new Hayes (of whom I'm a big fan, & was rooting for to win—not that I didn't/don't love the other finalists). If anyone's interested, my picks were: Terrance Hayes (poetry), Barbara Demick (nonfiction), and Nicole Krauss (fiction). (I don't read enough children's literature/YA to have an informed opinion.) Congrats to all, however, winners and finalists alike!

What about you, meine Autoren? What do you think of the finalists/winners and their books?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Anatomy of a Book Sale (Rerun)

'Tis a busy time of year for us sales folks, mes auteurs, so here's a blast from the past to tide you over while I go to a whole bunch of super fun meetings. Enjoy! — E

Episode: "Anatomy of a Book Sale"
Originally aired: Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Continuing my responses to your questions, today we'll look at how a book sale is broken down. First, I'll quote from an article by Peter Olson, which I've linked to before:

If we assume that the average retail price of a print book is $10, then the average wholesale price is $5 (the $5 difference represents the retailers’ costs for store rent and personnel, including a profit of, at most, only 50 cents for the retailer); the costs of paper, printing and binding are roughly $1, the author’s royalties (15 percent of retail price) $1.50, internal publishers’ costs (including marketing, sales, warehousing, inventory management and distribution) of approximately $2, on average, leaving a publisher’s margin of 50 cents.

So, on a $10.00 book (retail price), the bookseller (e.g. B&N) makes $0.50, the publisher makes $0.50, and you and your agent make $1.50 (my understanding being that you retain $1.27 and your agent keeps $0.23). More detailed information on advances and royalties can be found in Moonrat's post on the subject.

Now it's worth noting that most author/publisher contracts don't specify a single royalty rate, but rather a full schedule of them, which varies depending on different circumstances of sale. This is almost always the case if the publisher is calculating your royalties based on wholesale price (i.e. the discounted price at which they sell the books to the book stores, generally around 50% of the retail price) rather than the full retail price. A full explanation can be found in Stephen Nelson's article on how author royalties are calculated.

If I recall correctly, the original question had to do with whether and how bookseller discounting could affect author royalty rate. The short answer is, if your contract indicates your royalties will largely be based on the retail price of your book, then discounting by the bookseller can impact your royalty statements; if, on the other hand, your contract indicates your royalties will be calculated based on the wholesale price of your book, then your royalties will vary depending on how many copies of your book are sold through to book stores by the publisher. Stephen's article (above) does an excellent job of explaining this, but the idea is that if a given account buys more copies of your book, they can expect a steeper discount; a steeper discount alters the wholesale price, thus altering any number that is a fixed percentage of that price (like your royalties).

So, if your percentage is taken off the retail price, Borders, B&N, &c largely determine the size of the check you receive (after your agent's commission and taxes). If your percentage is taken off the wholesale price, your publisher's sales department and those notorious account buyers determine the size of the check (based on how many copies are sold from publisher to account, including initials and reorders).

If you're curious to see how agents view the royalty system, Ethan Ellenberg (of the Ethan Ellenberg agency) has written his own article on the subject, which I highly encourage you to read.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Cons of Procrastination

We all do it, mes auteurs, whether it's at work, with our writing, or doing simple chores around the house. Why haven't you put together that Excel file that will literally take you ten minutes? Why have I spent three weeks avoiding a bucket of dirty paintbrushes instead of investing the necessary 30 minutes to clean them? Why didn't you write your 1,000 words today, but instead promised yourself you'd write 2,000 tomorrow? And why on Earth did I put off writing this post until eleven o'clock at night?

These questions are somewhat rhetorical, but if you're looking for actual answers, I encourage you to check out this blog post. (The blog as a whole is actually pretty interesting.) More importantly, however: how can you (we) stop procrastinating?

Acknowledge that you're procrastinating. The first step, as they say, is admitting you have a problem. In all seriousness: if you don't recognize that you're putting off something that's important to you (in this case, writing), you can't stop procrastinating and start getting work done. We're all expert rationalizers and justifiers. If you direct your energy at explaining away your lack of progress rather than—well, progressing—you're never going to get that short story or novel written.

Try to identify the cause of your procrastination. Ideally, you'd rush home every day from work to sit down at your computer/desk/notebook/&c and start typing/scribbling away. If you aren't, try to figure out why. Does work drain too much of your energy? Are you stuck on a scene you're not having much fun writing? Is your writing space depressing, distracting, or (worse) non-existent? Once you know why you're having trouble putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), you'll hopefully be able to overcome the problem.

Set small, manageable goals and stick to them. If your goal is 1,000 (or 100!) words a day, write 1,000 (or 100!) words a day. Period. No excuses, no rationalizing, no justifying. Caveats: emergencies arise. Family is more important than writing. Sometimes you're not going to get those 1,000 (or 100!) words written. What does that mean? It means that tomorrow, you write 1,000 (or 100!) words. Keep moving forward and don't look back.

Periodically reward yourself for sticking to your goals. Whether you do it by scene, chapter, or word count, reward yourself when you achieve a major or meaningful milestone. It needn't be anything big, but the prospect of getting or doing something you truly enjoy as a reward for maintaining your writing schedule can work wonders. There's absolutely no need to "punish" yourself when you fall short; you just won't get your chocolate/iTunes/True Blood/&c fix. (Make sure you pick something you really want.)

That's all I've got for you today, mes auteurs, but if you have any tips for defeating procrastination, don't hesitate to share them in the comments!

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Un-E-Bookable

I know you occasionally grow weary of my e-scapades, meine Freunde, so I thought I'd break in a brand-new week with something unprecedented on PMN: a post on the un-e-bookable! Specifically, Jonathan Safran Foer's new novel, Tree of Codes.

The Vanity Fair article/interview (linked above) calls the book "a spare, haunting story that appears to hang in negative space" and "very, very cool." Safran Foer created the book by strategically cutting passages out of Bruno Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles, meaning the book is die-cut throughout. That also means that, at $40.00, it's probably the most expensive fiction trade paperback on the market now. While "very, very cool," is it forty dollars cool? Or even Amazon's $26.40 cool?

I've seen the book, mes auteurs (more via hook than by crook), and I must say: I'm actually not super impressed. It could be because I saw a much-handled galley whose pages no longer lined up properly, but the story seemed less to me spare and haunting than jumbled and contrived. Yes, I know it's cool to hate on JSF, but believe me, I'm not hating—I loved Everything is Illuminated and was charmed by Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I just think this book is less a testament to good writing (or, I suppose, editing) than it is to how confident publishers are in the JSF brand.

Then again, like I said, it's possible the copy I had wasn't in the best shape. I'll browse at a certain local indie and, if sufficiently impressed, will use my "one free paperback" coupon to the fullest.

To be clear: I'm glad to see a new book (by a major author) that takes full advantage of its physical existence, and un-e-bookable titles like this one help—at least, for the foreseeable future—to guarantee the relevance of the printed page for years to come. To quote the man himself:

I started thinking about what books look like, what they will look like, how the form of the book is changing very quickly. If we don’t give it a lot of thought, it won’t be for the better. There is an alternative to e-books. And I just love the physicality of books.

I do agree; there is an alternative to e-books, and this "book-as-sculptural objec[t]" (again quoting the article) is one of them. Whether it will be popular enough to maintain interest in physical books is debatable, and again quoting Safran Foer (in response to "In this increasingly digital age, do you see a project like this... as one way to preserve the printed page?"):

Not really. These decisions are going to be democratic. This book is simply not going to find a big audience. It’s naïve to think it would. I’m not really interested in resisting what’s going on, even though I have strong ideas about what a good book is. It’s possible to make things that aren’t just money-makers. Something wonderful for its own sake.

Safran Foer is right: this book won't find a big audience (relative to his usual crowd), and were it coming from any other author, it would be virtually unsalable (although some would argue it's virtually unsalable as-is! Get it? Oh man, I crack me up). Again, however, I agree that there are going to be alternatives to e-books in the future, and while the democratic force of the Reading Public will push the e-format more and more forcefully as time goes on, I'm convinced there will always be a place in the market for books as objets d'art.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Slightly Creepy Round Up

Friday round up, from Laura

A lot of things happened this week in publishing, folks, but I haven't heard a one of them, because the pedophile guide hijacked the airwaves. Yep, that's right, there's a pedophile guide on Amazon that was self published straight to the Kindle, and people are mad (not surprisingly). And you know what? After selling only one copy, all of the media attention gave the book a 101,000% sales boost. What? Tons of media attention put money directly in the pocket of a man who wrote a guide to being a pedophile? This is my shocked face. Now can we stop paying attention to this guy and handing him our money? (Amen. — E)

Plus, other things happened too. John Grisham sold 70,000 copies of his new e-book in one week. And I'm happy he has our money! Temple Grandin has a new book coming out, which should be faboosh, and Brittany Murphy's mom is writing a tell-all, which just feels icky already. Maybe she can use some of these writing tips from Vonnegut. Or maybe we should all just watch literary movies this holiday season instead of thinking about her book, or read the most popular authors on Facebook. Or, hey, we can read what George Bush read in office.

Well, I'm off to France, where e-books have fixed prices—I can still read the new New York Times e-book bestseller list there. Until next week!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Prithee, Inform Me: The E-Complaint Box

Happy Veteran's Day, everyone! If you haven't yet thanked someone who has served or is currently serving our country, please do. (Thanks, Dad!)

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, mes auteurs, only 7% of on-line adults who read books say they read e-books. For the 93% of you who don't (yet), my question is: why not?

I've heard a variety of complaints against the e-book format, from pricing/cost to display issues to nostalgia/preference for the printed page. Wherefore the holding out, all ye hold-outs? You can't all be waiting for Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa.

To the comments!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The First Billion Is The Hardest

(With thanks to T. Boone Pickens, who is also on my List of Billionaires with the Coolest Names Ever.)

We've all known that e-books are kind of a big deal, meine Autoren, but the requisite benchmark facts & figures haven't been consistently available. Well, good news, everyone!

Forrester Research has found that e-book sales are closing in on one. Billion. Dollars. (For 2010.) And with sales up 176% year-on-year, they project that that billion-dollar figure will triple by 2015. Some of you might be thinking: "that is totally bananas." I'm thinking: "it's probably going to be even more than that."

As I've recently mentioned, I believe that parity between physical book sales and e-book sales (that is, the point at which electronic sales will comprise 50% of the market) will be in 2013 or 2014. Keep in mind that currently, only 7% of on-line adults who read books read e-books; as the price of devices comes down (I think the magic number is under $99) and the industry further adapts to the electronic format, I expect that number to spike. My guess (and this is just a guess!)? At least 30% over the next three years. If 7% of on-line reading adults are generating a billion dollars in e-sales this year, how much money will 30% of on-line reading adults generate three years from now?

It's hard to say. The industry made $35 billion in 2009, but that was almost exclusively physical media (e-books accounted for only $169.5 million, or 0.48%, dollar-wise). If the industry were to make another $35 billion in 2010 with $1 billion representing e-book sales, that percentage would jump to 2.9%. My guess is that the industry will make a little more money next year, but over $1 billion will be in electronic media sales. At that rate, it's not difficult to imagine double digits next year and parity two or three years after that.

It's true that e-book pricing will become an even bigger problem over the next few years, and I expect that, on average, e-books will become cheaper as more competitors enter the market and attempt to undercut each other. There's already some downward pressure on pricing from retailers like Amazon, so unless publishers withdraw from third-party retailers altogether and begin selling directly to consumers, there's no reason to assume e-books will stay at $14.99 (or $12.99, or even $9.99). But! Another topic for another day, mes auteurs.